Decorated WWII, Korean War aviator, pioneer given Air Force full-honor funeral

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Richard Williams
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency
One of the Air Force's most decorated fighter pilots was laid to rest Aug. 12 with full military honors including a missing man formation flown by four F-15E Strike Eagles from the 391st Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, the very squadron he commanded years ago when he flew four sorties over the beaches on D-Day in 1944.

Retired Col. John A. Carey, a veteran with more than 30 years of service, including commanding the 391st FS in World War II and the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Korea, had four and a half aerial kills and received the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts and more than 30 combat air medals.

Carey flew the Spitfire, P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Mustang and F-86 Sabre in combat, commanded at the squadron, group, wing and sector level and finished his distinguished career as J-3 director of operations for the United Nations Command in Korea in 1968. He was selected to the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College 2007 Class of Gathering of Eagles for outstanding contributions to aviation in the 20th Century.

The Carey family truly reflects the history of military aviation. John Carey was born Nov. 12, 1919, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Carey related to his son's often that his love for the sky was set in motion as a 7 year-old boy, when his father took him to sit in Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis the night before it took off on its historic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.

Three generations of military aviation began with John Carey's father who was an Army major flying in WW I. Col Carey's three brothers became decorated fighter pilots in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Today, the Carey family legacy continues with his sons, Col. Steve Carey and Col. Tim Carey, following in his footsteps and flying fighters in operations Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom.

Under a brilliant blue sky Aug. 12, the horse-drawn caisson of the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion 3rd Infantry Regiment's "Old Guard," rolled slowly through Arlington National Cemetery. The caisson was escorted by members of the Air Force Honor Guard and the Ceremonial Brass Band and by his family, friends and fellow Airmen who came to pay their final respects. In true fighter pilot spirit, both of his sons walked with the caisson as "wingmen" with their father on his last mission.

Airmen from the Honor Guardsmen stood on a hill overlooking Carey's final resting place as they performed the traditional rifle volley. A lone bugler stood apart from the group to play Taps, which is a tradition at U.S. military funerals since 1891.

As the ceremonial flag was folded for the last time, the Air Force chaplain presiding over the ceremony quoted the inscription on the John Paul Jones Memorial, "In life he honored the flag. In death the flag shall honor him."

The military funeral honors the service and sacrifice of service members during war and peacetime. It represents the final respect a grateful nation can display to the family.

The tradition of the missing man flyby, adopted by the U.S. military in 1938, is seen as one of the highest forms of respect for a fallen aviator.

"A full military honors ceremony with missing man formation flyby is truly a humbling yet proud occasion," said Carey's son, Tim. "It goes to the very core of our Air Force heritage and the spirit of serving one's country as we all do."

During WWII Carey flew 181 combat missions.  One distinctive mission highlight was recalled where he landed his P-47 behind enemy lines two days after the D-Day invasion to rescue a downed pilot. He picked up the downed airman but in order to fly back in his single-seat fighter, he threw out his own parachute, sat on the down airman's lap, took off and flew back to England with an open canopy.

Carey often recalled this day when he earned a phone call from the Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower who started the conversation by admonishing him for risking himself and aircraft to land behind enemy lines against regulations then congratulating Carey for his heroism and said he would have done the same thing.

His service continued through the Korean War where he flew the F-86 Sabre, commanding the 334th FIS through "MiG Alley," in Northern Korea. His younger brother also flew in the same squadron a year later and was shot down, declared missing in action, and never recovered. John Carey also helped pioneer the development of the first jet-to-jet air-to-air combat techniques.

Pilots with the 391st FS, now assigned to Mountain Home AFB, performed the missing man flyby over Arlington National Cemetery. At the reception held at the officer's club at Fort Myer, Va., after the service, the 391st FS pilots, led by Lt. Col. Brian McCarthy, the squadron commander, presented a rousing toast to Carey by recounting his exploits in grand fighter pilot tradition.

"Dad was an amazing father, husband and leader whose guiding spirit will always be a part of his family and the Air Force he loved so much," said his son, Steve Carey. "He knew what it meant to lead from the front and motivated all of us with his "kick the tires and light the fire" enthusiasm! We bid farewell to a great aviator, warrior and Air Force leader today and pass the torch to a new inspired generation."